The Table of Brotherhood: On Having Adversaries.

“No man is my enemy
My own hands imprison me
Love rescue me”   – U2

I was deeply disturbed by this Religion News Service article that got picked up by Christianity Today:

Top Three Adversaries of Christian Conservatives:
Communism, Islam … and the Emergent Church?

Why do we feel, as Christians, that we need to have enemies?  And especially why are we identifying other Christians as enemies? And to think that I encountered this piece on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and its words were echoing in my ear:

I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

Yes, race, economics, politics, religion, doctrine, we are still a long way away from the beloved community that Martin Luther King dreamed of, where we would be able to sit down together at “the table of brotherhood” (and I would add, sisterhood), as creatures all created in the image of God.

Indeed, it is the “table of brotherhood” that lies at the heart of Slow Church. The evangelicals are our friends, the emergents are our friends. Jesus gathered tax collectors and Zealots in his little community of disciples, and these groups were as bitterly opposed in the Israelite people of that day as the political Right and Left are today.  Let’s gather at the table, eating and being together, knowing and being known as real people, not as faceless ideologies by which we can dismiss and demonize each other.  We all will have opinions about what is wrong with the world and how it should be fixed, but we must start by celebrating our unity that has been won in the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  Celebrate our unity first, and then learn to eat and to talk and to be together (in a culture that has all but lost the capacity for civil dialogue).  Eating together, as John Howard Yoder has emphasized, is an economic act, and by so doing, we are already on the journey to imagining a new shared economy. Let us eat together, and be together and seek Christ together. (And let our economics and politics follow from there.)  This is Slow Church.

It’s telling that the stated audience of this CT article is “Christian Conservatives,” the primary identity is Conservative and Christianity is the icing on the cake, so to speak.  What we are interested in, and what I advocate above is a primary identity in Christ.  Okay, maybe at times we will need clarifying descriptors — “Progressive Christians,” “Conservative Christians,” etc — but can we please recognize that we are first and foremost followers of Christ, that our identity is above all in Jesus?   If we cannot do this, how do we expect to imagine the work of Christ in reconciling not only all Christians, but all humanity and all creation???


  • Adam Shields

    We need enemies because it is part of the community organization structure that many (on both right and left) have bought into. I personally was involved in faith based community organizing for a while. But I had a real theological problem with the tactics that were used. The group I was involved in was using Saul Alinsky methodology.

    And while I believe that that can be adapted for use as a Christian, part of the central method is to create an enemy by polarizing an issue and forcing something that is complex into black and white. (This is the actual language from trainings as I remember it from 15 years ago.)

    I thought it was interesting that when a class of mine from the University of Chicago Divinity school came to one of the rallies and then talked to the staff organizers later, the two professors brought up the very theological problem of creating false enemies being opposed to Christian theology.

    • erbks

      Adam, YES!!!!!
      Because we at Englewood are deeply involved in community organizing and community development work, we often encounter the Alinsky disciples that you describe and they are as baffling to us as they are to you… We try to push back, but usually things just fizzle out eventually.

  • Joe D.

    But how are we to love our enemies if we don’t have any? ;)

    Yes, that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek but… thinking of Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and his attitude towards the “white moderate” reflected here:

    “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”

    I love your image of the table and seeking a unity that preserves diversity. My question is how do we do this without falling into the trap of “order” over justice, of “negative peace” over “positive peace”, without becoming those who proclaim “Peace, Peace” when there is no peace?

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding your perspective, so please correct me if I’m off base here.

    Thanks as always.

    • erbks

      Joe, excellent questions! We must come to the table in truth, being willing to seek Truth (i.e., Christ) together, not obscuring our divisions for the sake of preserving a “negative peace.” This sort of vulnerability is what makes this such a difficult thing to do (for people on either side of a divide).

  • Ford1968

    Seeking God has led me to this conclusion too – we are meant to delight in one another. I have two thoughts I think add to this conversation.

    1. I hate labels. They’re convenient shorthand but tend to unfairly represent those we’re trying to describe. Labels obliterate nuance and create misunderstanding rather than clarity. Unfortunately, they’re really hard to avoid.

    2. The media is not our friend. As a Christian who’s gay, I’ve always wondered why the whole of Christianity doesn’t denounce patently bigoted groups like the FRC and the AFA that spread vile lies about gay people in an attempt to sustain moral disapproval of homosexuality. Instead of being denounced, they are encouraged by certain Christians and, through politics and media, they become the voice of the faith. That engenders a very defensive and divisive reaction from those who don’t want to be represented as such.

    This cycle of publicly proclaiming our own truths and decrying others is a barrier to genuine fellowship. David Blankenhorn calls this a “tissue of belief” that keeps us from knowing and loving one another.

    Sorry for the long winded response. Verbosity is my worst habit. Brevity seems more in keeping with the slow church ;)

    • erbks

      Good thoughts, thanks!
      I understand your hate for labels. And yet, it seems like the project of modernity was centered around doing away with labels, doing away with histories. I don’t think we should do away with names/labels, but much better as I argue here to BE with others and realize that they are much more than any label that we might put on them (or they might put on themselves). And certainly better to listen attentively to the language that people use to describe themselves, rather than imposing our own labels on them. (kind of turning the practice of “proclaiming our own truths and decrying others” on its head).

  • Friv 2 Friv 4

    I understand your hate for labels. And yet, it seems like the project of
    modernity was centered around doing away with labels, doing away with
    histories. I don’t think we should do away with names/labels…